week one discussion board thread instructions squares H u m a n i t i e s
Week One Discussion Board Thread Instructions
Squares, Triangles, Circles, and Hearts:
After reading the assigned chapters in Everyday Bible Study (Chapters 1-5), identify the following items:
- Squares: 4 ideas that, in general, square (fit) with your thinking
- Triangles: 3 angles you have never considered before
- Circles: 2 questions that are circling in your mind
- Hearts: 1 idea that you loved.
Once you have identified these 10 items, list and explain them in a thread. Your full thread should contain at least one quote from Everyday Bible Study to support the thoughts and ideas you are presenting. Your thread should be at least 400 words in length. For an example of this type of thread, please see the provided example in the Course Content folder.
Book – EVERYDAY BIBLE STUDY
Growing in the Christian Faith
by John Cartwright and Chris Hullshof
How to Look at the Bible
Chapter 1 Looking at the Bible Theologically
A Theological Definition of the Bible
The Bible is God’s story about his plan to rescue, redeem, and restore what was lost in the fall of humanity. In God’s plan and through the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, the relationship between God and humanity has been restored. This restoration is personally applied by the work of the Holy Spirit to the heart of an individual. It is a work that leads the individuals to respond in faith, repent of their sin, and profess faith in Jesus Christ as the savior. Let’s consider this definition more closely.
The Bible Is God’s Story
The Bible is first and foremost the story of God. He is its author and the main character. To read and study the Bible with another presumption of authorship and character is to create a story line that does not fit the framework of the text. Understanding the Bible as God’s story implies two important conclusions.
First, the Bible is a story. More specifically, the Bible is a book of stories that are woven together to tell one complete story. It is essential to remember this as you study the Scriptures in their various genres. This may not be difficult as you are reading through the history of Israel, the life of Christ, or the events of the early church. It will be more challenging to remember the overarching storyline of the Bible when you are considering proverbs, laws, and parables.
Second, the Bible is God’s story. Rightly taking this approach to Scripture will place us in an appropriate relationship to the text. We are not the principal or even supporting characters in the Bible. This is one of the dangers of adopting a “life verse” mentality regarding the biblical text. When we do this, we replace the centrality of God in his own story with our own motives, desires, or plans. We have moved ourselves to the central character slot and have moved God to the supporting cast member role. The Bible is God’s story. He is its primary character. Through each person, law, psalm, proverb, or prophecy, God is drawing attention to himself and what he is doing as he works out his plan.
About His Plan
God’s story details his plan. There should be a certain level of comfort in those five words. When we read the Bible, we are not reading a recap of a supreme being who is making it up on the fly. Instead, we are reading the plan of God as he works his will out in the lives of the numerous characters of the Bible. There are no random personalities, events, or circumstances. There are no unexpected situations. None of the actions recorded in the Bible caught God by surprise. Each word of Scripture is designed to move the plan forward in a way that glorifies God and points to Christ.
It may be challenging to think through Scripture in these terms because we are so used to our plans going astray. We dream, hope, and strategize only to be caught off guard by something we did not foresee happening. As a result, we move to plan B or plan C as a way to accomplish only a fraction of what we had originally intended. Our failure to execute our plan stretches our minds to consider a God who is sovereign over the affairs of his creation. His rule and reign are not reactionary in nature. It underscores his purposeful plan to bring his created world back into a proper relationship with him.
To Rescue, Redeem, and Restore What Was Lost in the Fall of Humanity
What is the basic purpose of God’s plan as it is revealed in his story? God’s plan is to fix what was broken when Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s instructions. His plan is to rescue, redeem, and restore all that was lost through this rebellious act.
First, God’s story reveals his plan to rescue humanity. The condition of every human being is one of lostness. We are desperately and hopelessly lost because of the actions of our first parents—Adam and Eve—and our own willful sin. This lostness means that we are incapable of rescuing or saving ourselves. In fact, the more we attempt to save ourselves, the worse we make things. This is because our self-rescue efforts highlight our belief that we are strong enough, smart enough, and self-sufficient enough to fix the error of our ways. However, God’s plan reveals that the help we need must come from outside of ourselves rather than from inside of ourselves. If our rescue is to be successful, God will need to do the rescuing.
Second, the plan of God is to redeem the lost. In Ephesians, Paul wrote, “in him we have redemption through his blood” (Eph 1:7). In this short phrase, he has articulated our need and the accomplishment that meets this need. All have sinned and are in need of redemption. This redemption can only be accomplished through the blood—the sacrificial death—of Jesus Christ. In his commentary on Ephesians, John MacArthur notes that in Eph 1:7, Paul highlights the idea of a ransom being paid to a captor. He rightly points out that we are enslaved to sin, the captor of mankind. However, God has set out to redeem fallen man: “Biblical redemption refers to the act of God by which he Himself paid as a ransom the price for our sin.” With all this in mind, we can see that God’s plan reveals we are terribly lost and in need of rescue. Our lostness comes with a price. In order to be set free, to be redeemed, a price must be paid. As slaves to sin, we ourselves cannot pay this price. Thus God willingly pays the price to free us. He redeems us and sets us free from sin.
Third, God’s plan goes beyond rescuing and redeeming. His desire is to restore the relationship and fellowship he had with human beings in the garden of Eden. He does not rescue and redeem us simply to leave us on our own. Rather, he desires to restore what was lost. Those who have trusted God should find great comfort in the restoration of God. He is not simply saving us, setting us free, and then begrudgingly accepting us. Instead, he has purposefully set in motion a plan to restore the bond he had with his children before it was severed through sin.
Through the Birth, Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ
God accomplishes his plan through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Sometimes we focus only on certain aspects of the life of Christ. Every December, we may read, think, and talk about the importance of the birth of Jesus Christ. We set up manger scenes and reflect gratefully on what it means that Jesus came to Earth as a helpless baby. We return to the Christmas stories recorded in Matthew and Luke and are drawn into the wonder of God’s Word and the fulfilled promise of a Messiah. As winter turns to spring, we are reminded of the approaching Easter Sunday. We consider the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We read the passion narratives and are again astounded that the Son of God would offer his life for sinful human beings. We attend a Good Friday service and take communion. The bread and the cup impress upon us the depth of Christ’s sacrifice and the weighty remedy of God’s plan. As Friday turns to Sunday, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the hope of eternal life. Life is more meaningful because death has been defeated. We anticipate our own resurrection one day, and we remind ourselves of this hope in light of friends and family members who have preceded us in death.
Unfortunately, for many Christians, Christmas and Easter are the only times they truly reflect on the life and work of Jesus Christ. The Christmas season leads to a quiet reflection on Christ coming to Earth as a helpless baby. Easter serves a reminder of his sacrifice and victory for us. There is little contemplation about the theological significance of his sinless life. Instead, any focus on Christ’s life is directed to his teachings, his miracles, and the parables he told. When we dive into each of these elements, it is only to mine them for practical significance or personal spiritual success. Thus we fail to realize the theological significance of the sinless life of Christ.
We are unable to live the kind of life required by God. We cannot live a life of total obedience at every turn and in every moment. In short, we are unrighteous. However, Jesus Christ can and did live the perfect and sinless life. He is righteous. In Christ’s death, God credits us with Christ’s righteous life. In this great exchange, we inherit his righteousness, and he takes our sin. The flawless life of Christ is significant to you and me as we daily walk in grace.
The same is true about Christ’s ascension. Sadly, the significance of this event is mostly lost on the average Christian. What does it mean to you that Christ ascended to heaven? At minimum, the ascension of Christ spotlights the fact that we have an intercessor who is in the presence of God on our behalf. It is Christ who pleads for us as we bring our confessions, prayers, and petitions to God. The Scriptures describe Satan as “the accuser of our brothers and sisters” (Rev 12:10). The one who provides an answer to those accusations is Jesus Christ. Where Satan accuses, Christ intercedes on our behalf. The importance of Christ’s ascension should not be lost on the believer. It is another aspect of Christ’s work that has a daily impact for each and every Christian.
The Relationship between God and Humanity Has Been Restored
What is the intended outcome of God’s plan? The outcome of God’s plan was to restore the relationship between him and the crown of his creation, human beings. The relationship that was severed in the garden was restored through the life and work of Jesus Christ. We could easily assume that, since we fractured the relationship, God is willing to restore it to its former significance. But this is not the case. While human beings are covenant breakers, God, the grand covenant keeper, remains faithful to the relationship he has restored. For believers, this means that God continually loves us. This love is not based on our ability to keep our promises to God. Rather, it is based on Christ’s ability to keep his promise to God. It is based not on our poor performance but on the perfect performance of Jesus Christ. The story of God’s plan, the Bible, shows us that through Christ Jesus we are loved by God, adopted as his sons and daughters, and declared heirs through God (Gal 4:7). [CartwrightHulshof (2019). (p. 7). Everyday Bible Study, Second Edition. Retrieved from https://app.wordsearchbible.lifeway.com]
Chapter 2 Looking at the Bible Contextually
History is not merely a thing of the past—it is always relevant, even today. If you know the history of a person or event, you will have a better understanding of that person or event. For example, imagine you have been asked to write about the issue of slavery that led to the Civil War. To write an effective paper, you would first want to look at the origins of the slave trade in North America before the nineteenth century. You would need to consider the economic motivators with respect to tobacco and cotton crops—how financial greed and the prospects of free labor motivated slave owners to resist efforts to make slave ownership illegal. And, of course, you could not ignore the historical events leading up to, during, and after the Civil War. In addition, you would not want to ignore the long history of events involving the slave trade that preceded the founding of the United States. To effectively discuss an event or topic, it is helpful and necessary to have a firm grasp on the historical context of that event or topic.
Take, for example, the popular Bible story of Daniel in the lion’s den. While it is an encouraging story about a man who trusts God when his life is in peril, many do not understand the historical background. If you know the history of this story, you can understand the circumstances that brought Daniel the Israelite to Babylon and how difficult it was for Daniel to choose to honor God in a hostile environment.
Bible study depends on a greater understanding of the whole Bible. This chapter establishes a chronology of the Bible in order to provide the historical context of each biblical book. By understanding this chapter, you will better understand where any particular book falls on the biblical storyline. This will enable you to see how the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments relate to each other. As you understand the historical contexts of each biblical book, you will better grasp their themes and emphases.
Old Testament History
As the two chronological charts below demonstrate (see further below for the New Testament chart), each testament of the Bible is composed of certain narrative books that cover its historical time line (the primary layer of books on the chart) and other books that take place somewhere inside of this historical time line (the secondary layer of books).
Genesis (and Job)
Genesis, which means “beginnings,” is the beginning of the story of the Bible and can be divided into two sections: chapters 1–11 and 12–50. The first eleven chapters cover (among other things) the stories of creation, humanity’s fall into sin, the flood, and the tower of Babel. Chapters 12–50 cover the stories of the patriarchs of Israel. Here the reader encounters the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. From Jacob came many sons who would eventually represent the tribes of Israel. Among these sons was Joseph, who was sold by his brothers into slavery and eventually became the second most powerful man in Egypt. Genesis ends with Joseph, his brothers, their families, and Jacob in Egypt. This is important because it explains why the people of Israel (the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) are in Egypt when the book of Exodus opens. Job, one of the most famous books of the Bible due to its focus on the sufferings of a righteous man, is believed to have taken place during the time period of Genesis.
Exodus (and Leviticus)
The first eighteen chapters of Exodus tell the story of God’s deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt. Included in these chapters are the stories of Moses’s birth and the ten plagues upon Egypt. Chapters 19–24 discuss God’s covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai and introduce the Ten Commandments (chapter 20). The third and final section of Exodus (chapters 25–40) opens with Moses on the mountain, receiving God’s instructions for the tabernacle. At the same time, the people of Israel rebel against God and build a golden calf to worship. After God’s judgment on the people, followed by the renewal of the covenant, the tabernacle (God’s dwelling place) is constructed. While Leviticus overall is not a historical narrative like the book of Exodus, it does contain a few chapters (chs. 8–10) that fall into this category. It serves as a guide for how the people of God were to worship him and also discusses the fundamental categories of priesthood and atonement for sin that set the background for Christ’s sacrificial death.
Numbers (and Deuteronomy)
The book of Numbers explains how God prepared Israel to enter the Promised Land. The name of the book comes from the multiple censuses that Moses took of the people. Perhaps the most famous story is the account of the twelve Israelite spies sent to scout out the land of Canaan. Most of the spies feared the Canaanites and convinced the people that they could not take the land. As a result of Israel’s unbelief, God made Israel wander in the wilderness for forty years. The last section of Numbers describes the new generation of Israelites whom God prepared to take over the land he promised. Here we also learn about Moses’s successor, Joshua. Deuteronomy means “second law” and includes a repetition of many of the laws included in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.
The next chronological book in the Old Testament’s is Joshua. Here we learn about Joshua’s leadership of the people of Israel. Beginning with the miraculous crossing of the Jordan River, we read of Israel’s conquest of Canaan (both successes and failures) and the division of this land among Israel’s tribes.
Judges (and Ruth)
Judges is a record of the generations that followed the conquest of the land of Canaan. Often referred to as the cycle of Judges, the book includes a repeated story line. The Israelites would rebel against God, and God would punish their sin—usually by allowing an enemy nation to subdue them. This judgment would be followed by Israel’s repentance and prayer to God, which would lead to God sending salvation at the hands of a judge (thus the name of the book). This deliverance would lead to a time of rest for the nation. But soon after, Israel would again fall into sin, and the cycle would repeat. The events of the book of Ruth take place during the time of the Judges. The book of Ruth provides a contrast of faithfulness against the backdrop of unfaithfulness seen in the book of Judges, and two of the main characters, Ruth and Boaz, are ancestors of David and ultimately Christ.
Up to this point, the nation of Israel has no king. But this changes with 1 Samuel. During this time, the Lord has the prophet Samuel anoint Saul as the first king of Israel. However, by the middle of the book, God has rejected Saul as king because of his disobedience. In the second half of the book, we read of David’s anointing as king, David’s victory over Goliath, Saul’s jealous attempts to kill David, and the end of Saul’s disastrous reign.
2 Samuel (and 1 Chronicles and Psalms)
The reign of King David is recounted in 2 Samuel. The first half of the book tells of David’s great successes, and the second half tells of his great failings. The pivotal event in the middle of this book is David’s adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband Uriah. One of the saddest events of this half of the book is the rebellion of David’s own son, Absalom. This rebellion was eventually defeated, but it cost Absalom his life. First Chronicles parallels the events of 2 Samuel. Almost half of the Psalms were written by King David.
1 Kings (and Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon)
First Kings begins with the rule of King Solomon, the third and final king to rule over an undivided kingdom of Israel. The first half of the book describes Solomon’s reign. He is described as the wisest man to have ever lived and yet made some very unwise decisions including polygamy and idol worship. The second half of the book describes the division of the kingdom. The tribes of Benjamin and Judah formed the southern kingdom of Judah, while the remaining tribes made up the northern kingdom of Israel. King Solomon wrote the books of Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and (most of) Proverbs.
2 Kings (and 2 Chronicles)
In 2 Kings, readers see a dark period in which the two kingdoms are led by mostly evil kings. It is during this time, however, that God raised up the prophets to be his voice when the royal leadership failed. Both kingdoms were evil, but the northern kingdom was the worst of the two. In 722 BC, the Assyrians defeated the northern kingdom of Israel and carried the people into captivity. At the end of the book, in 586 BC, the southern kingdom of Judah is carried into exile by the forces of Babylon. Unlike their southern counterparts whose exile was temporary, the northern kingdom is never heard from again. As with 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles parallels parts of 1 and 2 Kings and focuses exclusively on the kingdom of Judah.
Ezra (and Esther)
Ezra records Judah’s return after a seventy-year exile in Babylon. A highlight of the book is the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. The events of the book of Esther take place just after the exile during a time in which not all of the Jewish people had returned to Jerusalem. Persia had conquered Babylon. Esther, a young Jewish woman, had become queen to the Persian king Ahasuerus. During this time, a plan was hatched to destroy the Jewish people, but the plan was foiled and the Jewish people were saved.
In Nehemiah, readers learn that while the temple had been rebuilt in Jerusalem, the city had no walls. Therefore, the nation was still vulnerable to enemy attacks. Once the walls were rebuilt, the nation of Judah could be reestablished. Nehemiah records the recommitment of the people to God’s laws including the public reading of scripture and the reestablishment of the Sabbath.
For the most part, the prophetic books are best seen historically in their relation to the seventy-year exile of the southern kingdom in Babylon (after 2 Kings but before Ezra). A simple way to categorize these prophetic writings is as follows: those who warned of the coming exile (preexilic prophets), those whose ministry was primarily during the exile (exilic prophets), and those whose ministry was primarily after the exile (postexilic prophets).
Preexilic prophetic books include Isaiah, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. Exilic prophetic books include Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Postexilic prophetic books include Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. The closing of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament are divided by 400 years of silence.
New Testament History
The Old Testament represents thousands of years of history. By way of contrast, the New Testament represents fewer than 100 years. The history of the New Testament is also simpler to structure. The first third of the New Testament includes the Gospel accounts, the second third covers the story of Acts, and the final third is the post-Acts era. The chart below is a chronology of the New Testament.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
Each of the four Gospels covers essentially the same period of time. The Gospels can be summarized as the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each Gospel account is written from a different perspective and at times records different material. So one must consider all four Gospel accounts together to study the life of Christ.
Acts (and James, Galatians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon)
Acts is part two to Luke’s Gospel and is a historical record of the ministry of the Holy Spirit to spread the gospel and of the establishment of the New Testament church. Acts 1:8b serves as a key verse: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” In chapters 1–7, the gospel spreads in Jerusalem, and in chapters 8–12, the gospel spreads through Judea and Samaria. The remainder of the book is the beginning of the spread of the gospel to the “ends of the earth.”
Many of the New Testament letters were penned during this time. James was the half brother of Jesus and probably wrote his letter during the early part of the period of Acts. Ten of Paul’s thirteen letters were written during the time period of Acts. Galatians and both Thessalonian letters were written during Paul’s second missionary journey. The Corinthian letters and Romans were written during his third missionary journey. Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon (also known as the Prison Epistles) were written during his imprisonment.
Post-Acts (1 Timothy; Titus; 2 Timothy; 1 and 2 Peter; Hebrews; Jude; 1, 2, and 3 John; and Revelation)
After the events of the book of Acts, several other letters were written. Here is a quick overview of them in the order that they were most likely written. Paul wrote three more letters (1 Timothy, Titus, and 2 Timothy) before being martyred in Rome. Following Paul’s life and ministry, Peter wrote two letters. While Paul’s letters were always to either churches or individuals, Peter’s letters appear to be to believers in general. Following Peter’s epistles is the only anonymous letter in the New Testament, Hebrews. Following Hebrews is the letter by Jude, another half brother of Jesus, that addresses false teaching. The final four books of the New Testament were all written by the apostle John: 1, 2, and 3 John and Revelation. The genre of Revelation is unique, as we shall see.
Having a basic grasp of how the Bible fits together is incredibly important. An understanding of the historical framework of the Bible will provide you with better perspective on any book or passage you study. It will also enable you to understand how each book, chapter, passage, verse, event, or individual fits into God’s big story. [CartwrightHulshof (2019). (p. 8). Everyday Bible Study, Second Edition.
Chapter 3 Looking at the Bible Categorically (Part 1)
I enjoy sports. Some might say I am a fanatic and that I care too much about my teams winning. Guilty as charged. But there is just something about the game, the competition, and the rivalries that I love. Moreover, my love of sports is not confined to one game. Yes, football (the American variety) is by far my favorite. But I also love baseball, basketball, and hockey. Now that I have growing children, I even love soccer, which is not a sport I grew up playing or watching. I suppose it’s a result of my upbringing. My father was a multisport star in high school and college. So sports are etched into our family DNA.
I also enjoy music, although my love for music is not on par with my love for, or knowledge of, sports. As with sports, there are different types of music: classical, jazz, pop, blues, country, bluegrass, rock, disco, R&B, and the list goes on. The music I listen to at any given moment depends on a variety of factors.
Food is another of my loves. Whether it’s a premium steak, delicious sushi, authentic Italian meatballs, or a good old-fashioned cheesesteak from my native Philadelphia, food is not just a means of survival for me.
What do sports, music, and food have to do with studying the Bible? Consider sports for a moment. Each sport has its own set of rules, equipment, and strategy. Each of these has a direct impact on the game itself. To illustrate this, imagine attempting to play basketball in football pads and on ice skates! Music types are also unique. While there are fusions of different music types, few could argue against the claim that Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven are in a class by themselves. Classical music is different, on many levels, from goth. Similarly, food types tend to fall into ethnic categories.
Like sports, music, and food, there are different kinds of literature. Literature types are referred to as genres (fiction, nonfiction, satire, tragedy, etc.). Similarly, the Bible, as literature, includes a variety of genres. The best way to understand the different genres of the Bible is to think of them like sports, music, or food. The genres of the Bible share some things in common (just as different sports share some things in common); however, each genre can be set apart from the others in its own category. Football and soccer share some characteristics, but there are major differences that affect your understanding of each sport and your ability to play and enjoy them.
The same is true of the Bible. Yes, the Bible is all equally God’s Word, but the books of the Bible include a variety of types, or genres, of literature. Understanding these different genres is critical to good Bible study. That is because, like sports, each genre has its own set of distinguishing characteristics and guidelines for interpretation. For example, it makes a difference whether you are reading a historical book describing an event or a letter in which the author is instructing a church congregation. When you correctly understand the genre of a book or passage, your expectations and strategy for interpretation are better framed. Some biblical genres, such as poetry, are found elsewhere. But other genres, like the Gospels, are unique to the Bible. This chapter will describe the four main genres of the New Testament: Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Revelation.
The Greek word for gospel (euangelion) means “good news.” The word is not unique to the Bible. It was often used in ancient times to announce military victories. Paul defined the gospel of Jesus Christ in 1 Cor 15:1–4: “Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel I preached to you, which you received, on which you have taken your stand and by which you are being saved, if you hold to the message I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Paul defined the gospel as the record of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. The genre known as the Gospels is the collection of the first four books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each of these is a record that describes Christ’s life, ministry, death, and resurrection. However, it would be best not to think of the Gospels as biographies of Jesus given that very little space is dedicated to his early life and, conversely, a large amount of space is dedicated to his final days. Each of the four accounts was written by a different author for different audiences. Therefore, there is value in studying each account by itself. However, since a single event is often recorded across multiple Gospels, there is value in studying an event across the various records. Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart emphasize this in their work, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. They recommend first reading individual accounts within the context of their Gospel. It is always best to understand a story within its own context. However, it is also useful to study that account across the various Gospel records. Since each writer may have had a different emphasis, or chose to include different details, a study that includes all the records will result in a more comprehensive view.
There are a few other important factors to consider when interpreting the Gospels. When reading a parable, you should resist the urge to allegorize the various details of parables. In other words, rather than speculate on what every detail might symbolize (or “allegorize”) it is better to grasp the main idea of a parable. Often the meaning of a parable is revealed in the surrounding context of a passage. You may have difficulty trying to determine the meaning of the parable of the lost coin in Luke 15 if you miss the fact that it is one of three parables (including the parables of the lost sheep and the lost son) about the joy of finding what is lost and the spiritual problem of those who are angry over this instead of joyful (the Pharisees in the beginning of the chapter).
Readers should also give special attention to the miracles in the Gospels. Jesus’s miracles primarily served as a sign that he was who he claimed to be. They validated his message and ministry. One of the best examples of this is the healing of the paralytic in the beginning of Mark 2. Before Christ healed him, Jesus told him that his sins were forgiven. Christ’s visible authority to heal the sick validates his invisible authority to forgive sins. In other words, Christ’s miracles were first about his identity, not his ability.
Lastly, the Gospels record many of Christ’s teachings and even sermons. It is important for the reader to discern certain factors such as the audience. Is Jesus communicating specifically to his disciples, as in John 17:6–19, when he prays for them? Or is Jesus communicating to a broader audience, as in John 6:66, where we learn about many of Christ’s disciples turning away from him because of his difficult teaching? (Hint: in the case of John 6, we can distinguish these disciples from the twelve disciples because in v. 67 Jesus turns “to the Twelve” and says, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?”) Such analysis will help the reader discover, where possible, if a command, teaching, or promise is intended to be applied in a limited way to a specific audience or to a broader audience. The same could potentially be said of the New Testament letters, which we will review later.
The second category of genre in the New Testament is represented by a single book: Acts. This book is part two of a two-volume composition by Luke—the Gospel of Luke being part one. If Christ is the central figure of the Gospel of Luke, the Holy Spirit is the central figure of Acts. If Luke’s Gospel was a record of the work of Christ that made the church possible, Acts is a record of the inception of Christ’s church through the work of the Holy Spirit.
In the same way that the Gospels ought not be limited to a historical biography of Jesus, Acts should not be viewed merely as a history of the early church—though much of the book narrates early church events. When the text is merely describing events as they occurred, the reader must be careful not to see these descriptive accounts as necessarily normative for today. On the other hand, commands for the church found in Acts should not be tossed aside as irrelevant for today. None of this is meant to devalue narrative stories. If nothing else, much can be learned simply by example.
Finally, it is important to note that many of the books of the New Testament were written during the time period of the book of Acts. These represent a good portion of the apostle Paul’s letters
The third genre in the New Testament is the epistles, otherwise known as letters. The epistles of the New Testament are as follows: Romans, 1–2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1–2 Peter, 1–3 John, and Jude. Revelation is also a letter, but its uniqueness sets it apart in it its own category. Each letter had a recipient. These recipients could be an individual (Titus), a group of individuals (Philemon), a church (Philippians), a group of churches (Galatians), or a group of believers in general (1 Peter).
The epistles of the New Testament are, in some ways, easier to approach than other genres in the Bible. Sometimes the purpose of a letter is explicitly stated and the contents are teachings on a particular subject matter, such as submission to authority (Romans 13) or the husband/wife relationship (Ephesians 5). Additionally, the letters are all written during the time of the church, so modern readers have fewer hurdles in interpretation and application than they might have with, for example, poetic books of the Old Testament. For many, developing lessons or sermons from the epistles comes more naturally since the epistles are often written like lessons and are, therefore, ready-made. That is not to say that the epistles are simplistic or that there are no complex passages in them. A study of Hebrews proves that untrue!
Finally, it is important for the reader to grasp the historical context of an epistle. Having an understanding of these various contexts can contribute greatly to the interpretation and application of the text. For example, as already mentioned, many of Paul’s epistles were written during the time period of Acts. Therefore, relevant details in Acts can be helpful in interpreting some aspects of Paul’s epistles.
The final genre category of the New Testament is Revelation. Revelation is unique in that it includes three genre types: letter, prophecy, and apocalyptic. The opening verses of Revelation clearly identify the book as a letter to the seven churches of Asia. Each of these churches receives some form of commendation or condemnation in the early pages. When possible, it is useful to pursue understanding of the historical context when studying any one of these ancient churches.
Revelation is also prophetic. In other words, parts of Revelation predict future events. Although there is much debate about the details and timing of these events, there is a fair amount of agreement on the prophetic nature of the events.
Lastly, Revelation is apocalyptic. Generally speaking, apocalyptic literature provides a vision of events concerning the end of the world. In other words, not only does Revelation predict future events (prophecy), but these particular prophecies deal particularly with the end of world history. Like many of the Old Testament prophetic warnings, Revelation is not merely a pronouncement of the end of the world. Readers of these prophecies are also called to repentance. The doom of the end of the world must also be seen with a view of God’s offer of salvation.
Those who study a New Testament passage need to identify its category of genre. A correct understanding of each genre helps set expectations for how a passage should be interpreted. Genre, then, becomes one of multiple aids to properly understanding the meaning of a biblical text. [CartwrightHulshof (2019). (p. 22). Everyday Bible Study, Second Edition.
Chapter 4 Looking at the Bible Categorically (Part 2)
Old Testament [CartwrightHulshof (2019). (p. 23). Everyday Bible Study, Second Edition.
As with the New Testament, the Old Testament can be classified into genre categories. Although some books contain multiple genres (as with Revelation), each book falls predominantly into one of five genres: narrative, law, prophets, psalms, and wisdom. To some extent, understanding the genre categories of the Old Testament is even more critical than the New Testament. That is because the Old Testament can be more challenging to understand and interpret, leading many to avoid it altogether. Understanding Old Testament genres helps shape expectations for how the various books should be interpreted.
If you look at chapter 2 on the historical time line of the Bible, you can easily identify the narrative books of the Old Testament. That is because narrative literature in the case of the Old (and New) Testament is the written account of stories and events. Of the five genres of the Old Testament, narrative is the most common. Some books of the Old Testament are mostly, if not exclusively, narrative (Genesis, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1–2 Samuel, 1–2 Kings, 1–2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah). Some books of the Old Testament are partly narrative (Exodus, Numbers, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Job).
There are some common mistakes that readers of the Old Testament make. The first mistake is to approach the stories as primarily about us in the twenty-first century. Certainly, there are applications to be made from Old Testament stories. But the first step to all good Bible study is to understand first the story within its historical context (more on that in a later chapter). When this mistake is made, it is easy to understand how believers come to expect God to fulfill promises that he intended only for Israel. Another mistake often made is viewing the Old Testament stories as overly symbolic and filled with all sorts of cryptic meaning. Certainly, the Bible can be mysterious, but most Old Testament stories are fairly straightforward. Your time is better spent unpacking the historical setting, characters, and plot of the Old Testament story, rather than trying to discern in them hidden or allegorical meaning.
When you approach an Old Testament story, begin by determining where this story fits in the grand scheme of the entire Bible. This will give you a sense of context for the story you are studying. Second, discover where the story fits into the Bible theologically (see chapter 1). Third, determine where the story fits in the landscape of Old Testament history and how God worked directly with Israel. Finally, ask yourself how the principles in the story can appropriately apply to you.
What image comes to mind when you hear the word “law”? Flashing red and blue lights? A judge’s gavel? There is a portion of the Old Testament that falls into the category of law, but the mental pictures of police cars or prison bars do not quite convey the purpose of the law in the Old Testament. What if I told you that the Old Testament laws were really about relationships?
The Old Testament laws, found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy as well as parts of Exodus and Numbers, were designed to assist in the establishment and governance of two types of relationships: horizontal and vertical. Vertically, the Old Testament law guided the people of Israel on the proper way to a relationship with and worship of their God. Horizontally, the Old Testament law governed the way people were to be in relationship with each other.
It is also important to note that a study of Old Testament law needs to be done in the context of the early Old Testament narrative. You probably have heard of the “books of the law” or the “Pentateuch”—that is, the first five books of the Old Testament. But have you considered that a large portion of these five books is actually narrative? So an understanding of the Old Testament law must come through an understanding of how God was operating in and among his people.
Have you ever heard someone speaking of the Old Testament law in a dismissive way as if it has no bearing on the New Testament Christian? There is some truth to this. Much of what God gave to the people of Israel in order to govern the nation does not necessarily apply to us today, and it would be a mistake to think or live otherwise. But does that make a study of the law a waste of time? No! First, the entire Bible is God’s Word, something for Christians to study and appreciate. Second, in order to grasp fully the New Testament and the gospel, one must have an understanding of the Old Testament, including the law. Third, even though many of the details of the law do not apply today, the character of God in his holiness and love for justice is absolutely relevant for today. Fourth, there are many places in the New Testament that teach and reapply much of God’s law for believers today. Most notably, the New Testament restates the two greatest commands that relate to the primary purpose for the law: love God (vertical relationship between God and his followers) and love your neighbor (horizontal interrelationships among people).
One of the most unique books of the Bible is Psalms. Psalms were sacred hymns or prayers. However, they are not just unique because they were musical. Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart identify another factor that sets the Psalms apart from other Scripture. Whereas the rest of the Bible is often appropriately described as God’s Word to us, the Psalms are really written to God. Therefore, the Psalms stand as unique among the rest of the literary categories, making it very important to understand how to interpret and use them.
Given that the Psalms were written as poetry set to music, they engage the emotions of the heart just as art has the capacity to do today. However, they are also the Word of God, and therefore the truths they express are vital. As a matter of fact, truths expressed while engaging the emotions can have a deep effect on the heart and mind.
There is also the metaphorical nature of the Psalms that must be accounted for. When we read in Psalm 1 about the man who delights in the law of the Lord as a tree that is planted by rivers of water, it is imperative to unpack the figurative language in order to understand what is being said. What is the value of a tree planted by a river? The answer helps you understand the metaphor (trees planted by rivers have a steady source of nourishment, which makes for a healthy and fruitful tree). Then you need to connect the metaphor to the statement. In other words, in what way is the man who delights in God’s law like this tree? He is nourished by God’s Word, so that he may be spiritually healthy and fruitful. In other words, you need to work through the symbolic language to discover the basic truths that can be applied to today’s context.
The Psalms are also emotional. Have you ever doubted God? Have you ever questioned God? Have you ever wondered what God is up to? The Psalms record these kinds of honest and emotional questions (see Psalm 73 for one great example). We should not be afraid of being honest with God. Not only does he already know how we feel, but also it is through these moments of emotional honesty that God can use the Psalms in our lives.
The wisdom books of the Old Testament are Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. Proverbs is often the poster boy of wisdom literature and will be the focus of this section. Proverbs is considered one of the most practical books of the Bible with its concise and expressive nuggets of wisdom to live by.
One of the biggest mistakes that someone can make when approaching the wise sayings of Proverbs is to see them as legally binding promises. Proverbs speaks of the lazy man as destined for poverty and the hard worker as destined for prosperity. However, there are obvious exceptions to these kinds of statements. But are these categories generally true? Yes.
Another important aspect of wisdom statements in Proverbs is that they are not intended to be complete and exhaustive. In other words, the statements of wisdom point you in the direction of truth without exploring every nuance of the subject matter.
Finally, as with all of God’s Word, it is important to read the Proverbs together. In other words, while proverbial wisdom makes for excellent kitchen wall plaques, isolating these statements away from their larger context allows for various kinds of misinterpretation and misapplication.
It is likely that you have heard the terms “Major” and “Minor” Prophets. These are unfortunate ways to describe the two collections of prophetic books in the Old Testament. The words “Major” and “Minor” might lead you to think that some prophetic books are more important than others. But the reality is that these terms are a way of dividing the longer prophetic books (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel) from the shorter prophetic books (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi). Recall, however, from chapter 2 that it is probably more productive to categorize the prophetic books around the exile: preexilic (Isaiah, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah), exilic (Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel), and postexilic (Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi).
The prophetic books can be challenging to understand. The best way to understand them is to understand the prophets themselves. The prophets were messengers of God, sent by God, with a message from God. The message was not always doom and gloom, although we often associate the prophetic books with bad news. Sometimes the prophetic pronouncements were blessings rather than curses. However, whether a prophet brought a word of blessing or curse was not random. God sent the prophets and their messages as a response to whether or not his people were keeping the covenant. The messages of the prophets were primarily reminders that God’s people should have already known from the covenant to which they had committed themselves.
Lastly, it is necessary to understand the prophetic books within their own historical context. Having a grasp of what was happening at the time of a prophet’s ministry helps tremendously when unpacking the text. Most of the messages of the prophets dealt directly with the time and place of their ministry. In other words, although some of the Old Testament prophecies touch on events that had not yet taken place, most of these prophecies were dealing with the near future and have already been fulfilled. Still, the overarching message that calls God’s people to live faithfully in accordance with what they believe is as relevant today as ever.
Much more could be said about the genres of the Old and New Testaments. However, there are at least two big takeaways from these two chapters. First, while all of the Bible is equally God’s Word, not all of the Bible is equal. Each genre dictates how it ought to be interpreted, and the student of God’s Word must not read it flatly as if it is all the same. Second, improving your understanding of the various genres of the Bible will set appropriate expectations and boundaries as you work toward correct interpretation and appropriate application. [CartwrightHulshof (2019). (p. 27). Everyday Bible Study, Second Edition.
5How Not to Look at the Bible
Incorrect View of the Bible #1: The Bible Is Filled with Nothing but Practical Principles for Life
Often people talk about the Bible as if it were a road map for life. They envision the Bible providing crystal clear instructions on every detail about everyday life. Many believe that Scripture is written solely for this practical purpose of successfully navigating the rough terrain of life.
While it is indeed true that the Bible provides practical truths to help us with our daily lives, it is incomplete to view the Bible in this light. The Bible is so much more! Readers will miss out on an immense amount of beauty and truth if they do not also look for the theological implications behind each story.
This false perspective fits well in our contemporary culture with its philosophy that a person is the master of his or her own destiny. However, the Bible is not primarily a book about the path I must choose to follow in order to successfully navigate this life. Instead, the Bible tells us the path that God chose in order to redeem humanity. It reveals his road map for reclaiming what was lost in the garden of Eden.
Thus, while it is important to read the Scriptures regularly to receive a sense of direction for each new day, filled with possibilities and pitfalls, the Bible is not solely or even primarily a book about the path to successfully navigating this life. It contains much deeper and life-sustaining truths that last a lifetime—even through eternity.
Incorrect View of the Bible #2: The Bible Is a Book of “Rules and Regulations”
This approach to the Bible is strictly focused on the commands of God and is concerned with duty-filled obedience. The person who views the Scriptures this way sees every verse—and even every historical event—as a potential command or rule to be obeyed. For example, the historical account of God delivering the Israelites from the Egyptians through the Red Sea (Exodus 13–15) will produce a basic checklist for personal obedience. When this checklist is followed, it will allow God to deliver people from the grand obstacles that obstruct their lives. A reading of the account of finding a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24) becomes an inventory for selecting a husband or wife. Following this self-proposed inventory is divinely guaranteed to produce a marriage that is honored and blessed by God. Thus behind every biblical story is an embedded directive to follow that, if followed, will afford a person earthly rewards for his or her active obedience. In essence, some believe that the Bible is a collection of heavenly edicts that every good Christian ought to follow.
One who has embraced this perspective will often limit the Bible in status to a handbook, guidebook, or instruction manual. He may even use the illustration of reading an owner’s manual to understand how a product works. In his estimation, the Bible is simply another manual that will help him understand how life should work. If he follows the manual, things will not break or go wrong.
To be sure, the Bible does contain rules and instructions from God. Each of these commands serves to warn us of danger if we neglect them. This is understandable since God, as the Creator of both human beings and the world they live in, knows exactly how life ought to be lived. However, the Bible is so much more than a book of instructions and rules. To view God’s Word this way is to miss three key issues.
First, there is an anthropological issue at stake. The rules and instructions of the Bible serve to show us how desperate our human condition is. We are actually unable to follow the instructions and keep the rules. No matter how hard we try, we will blow it at numerous times and in numerous ways throughout the day. We simply cannot be good enough long enough. Each time we run across a rule or instruction, the weight of the law ought to press deep into our hearts. Each command ought to remind us of the impossibility of sinners keeping God’s requirements as perfectly as he requires. When we see the Bible as a book of instructions or rules, we downplay the power of the law and we overestimate our ability to keep it in a way that will please God.
Second, there is a Christological issue at stake. This perspective of Scripture diminishes the necessity of Jesus Christ. As the sinless Son of God, Jesus lived a perfect life. His life was one of total obedience to the will and commands of God. He lived the life that you and I can never pull off. However, through faith in his death for us, we receive the merit of his law-keeping abilities. Part of the grace found in the gospel message is that we receive the benefit of having followed the commands of God even though we fail to do so every day. Christ’s perfect life is the antidote for the weight of the law and commands of God. When we take up God’s Word and read it as a book of instructions, rules, and commands that we need to follow in order to be accepted or loved by God, we are asserting that, as great as Christ’s work was, we are capable of keeping the directives of God in a satisfactory manner. This will never be the case. To embrace this mentality is to embrace a low view of Christ’s life, sacrificial death, and resurrection.
Third, there is a redemptive issue at stake. This view of Scripture reveals a poor understanding of God’s plan of redemption. If this perspective is taken to its logical conclusion, then Jesus Christ was not necessary. In the end, God could have simply left us with a book and a mandate to follow the instructions as best we can. We could give it our best effort and hope that, at the conclusion of our lives, our obedience and desire to obey would outweigh all the times we failed. Then perhaps God might grant us an eternity with him.
Does this scenario sound familiar? Many people consciously or perhaps subconsciously believe this is how God will conduct things at the end of time. But if this were true, then Christ would be completely unnecessary. The rules, commands, and instructions found on the pages of Scripture serve to show us how crucial Christ truly is. He is necessary because we are incapable of the kind of obedience God requires. Our hearts are too deceitful and wicked (Jer 17:9) for a book of instructions to be the remedy for our hopeless human condition.
Incorrect View of the Bible #3: The Bible Is a Book Containing Role Models for My Life
Another popular approach to understanding Scripture is to seek out a role model to copy. The assumption is that as I read the story of a biblical character, I can discern a distinctive pattern that I should copy into my life. Some characters set forth a negative example. When I read and study them, I ought to identify the negative example as well as the steps I can take to avoid making the same mistake. Other characters, however, offer a positive example. As I come upon these biblical figures, I should take note of the decisions that enabled them to be successful and obedient. In turn, I can translate their decisions into life principles that guide my life. When I study the Bible in this manner, I am assuming that the fundamental purpose of God’s Word is to provide me with either positive patterns to follow or negative norms to avoid.
This perspective is detrimental to Bible study because it fails to properly identify the direction that each story in Scripture is pointing. The narratives of God’s Word point toward God’s Son, Jesus Christ—not toward people. Mere human beings are not the focal point of Scripture. The focal point is Jesus Christ. Each story points to him and how God accomplishes our redemption through him. While we can identify admirable points of obedience in the lives of believers in the Bible, these people are not mere role models. They are testimonies to God’s redemptive plan to save the world through Jesus Christ. This is the redemption that you and I need, rather than the positive and negative examples of fallen human beings. Every human being in the Bible should instead draw our attention to Christ.